Respect 1.n Deferential esteem. 2 v.t.Regard with deference; avoid degrading or insulting. (Oxford English Dictionary)
With Joe Kinnear poised to become the 18th manager this season to incur the wrath of the Football Association due to comments made to or about referees it seems safe to conclude that, in the dugout at least, the FA's Respect campaign is as welcome as a director of football with the ear of the chairman.
There have even been anonymous mutterings among the sheepskin fraternity about going "on strike". Sadly this does not mean spending Saturday afternoons going shopping with their wives while the players get by without them, but keeping the teams in the dressing rooms for a few minutes after scheduled kick-off times. This petty response tells you all you need to know about who is on the side of right in this dispute. Sure, referees are not perfect. There have been some howlers made this season, some of which have influenced results and, possibly, though improbably, affected careers.
However, in any given match players are liable to make a higher ratio of mistakes than referees, and the managers who have not made as many tactical, selective or purchasing errors are few and far between – if, indeed, they exist.
If Paul Ince is any guide the managers have missed the point. After Blackburn's match at West Bromwich Albion, Ince, angered by Benni McCarthy being dismissed for handball – for which he correctly, albeit harshly, received a second yellow card – said: "We're trying to respect them but they have got to start respecting us. It works both ways." There is no record of the referee, Mike Jones, disrespecting Ince, perhaps by suggesting that signing Robbie Fowler – last goal October 2007 – was not the brightest idea he ever had. All Jones did was interpret the laws, strictly, but accurately.
The whole point of the Respect campaign is that managers, and players, are supposed to set an example to the game as a whole by respecting referees even when they are wrong. Brian Clough, Stuart Pearce, Claudio Ranieri, Gianfranco Zola, Luiz Felipe Scolari – they can all do it, so why cannot their colleagues?
Some managers may criticise referees as part of a strategy designed to influence officials and their administrative employers. Others may well be attempting to defray the blame for their own incompetence. The latter may go some way to explaining why of the 17 managers punished or charged for disrespecting referees, 11 lost the relevant match, only three won it.
The irony is that, compared to their gaffers, some players are getting the message. Mass intimidation of officials has been rare this season. Cautions for dissent in the Football League are significantly up, from 101 by the first week of November last season to 154, but this is partly due to greater enforcement. Those in the Premier League are on a par with last year, from 32 to 34. In the grassroots, which means anything from semi-pro county leagues to Sunday morning parks, cautions are down eight per cent. They were, though, down 12 per cent at one stage but have started creeping up, coincidentally – or is it? – just as Premier League managers starting venting their ire on officials.
For this is the crux of the matter. The Respect campaign follows a massive survey of grassroots footballers, polling 37,000 participants. The issue felt most strongly was dissent. Anyone with experience of parks and junior football will be all too aware of how matches can be ruined by officials being intimidated.
Jones and company may have to put up with being traduced in press conferences and abused by thousands of anonymous supporters, but they do not have to worry about an irate centre-half waiting by their car with a monkey wrench. Seven thousand referees leave the game every year, largely because of the attitudes they have to put up with. Even Graham Poll, whose self-belief could never be questioned, gave up refereeing youth football after two seasons because of the abuse he suffered from parents.
To a significant degree those vituperative parents and amateur players behave the way they do because of the attitudes they see in the professional game. Thus the campaign.
Some argue it does not go far enough. Poll believes managers who make "personal comments" about referees, such as impugning their integrity, should be punished by having their team docked points.
That is unlikely but the present touchline ban – which is literally that – may be extended to the Uefa definition which bars a manager from having any contact with his team at the ground on matchday.
Managers – like players – do tend to behave better in Champions League ties, partly because Uefa are stricter, and partly because the officiating is of a higher standard. This has led to a belief that foreign referees are better, but we only see the elite in the Champions League. One of the more unexpected experiences when travelling with English clubs is, for example, arriving in Italy for a local journalist to say [prior to his three-card trick at the 2006 World Cup], "Your Graham Poll is much better than our Pierluigi Collina."
To judge by the card count our managers would be even unhappier with foreign referees. In the Premier League a yellow card is waved every 27 minutes, a red every five and a half matches. In La Liga and Serie A it is every 20 minutes and three matches respectively.
Referees should be better, they are now well-paid professionals with plenty of back-up, but they are human and are never going to be perfect. There is no question they are fitter than ever, they are more scrutinised, both by the media and their own employers, and are more accountable. They could do with some video assistance and it would help if more had played the game at a high level. But while the FA are keen to fast-track ex-players few are forthcoming. It is no wonder given the contempt with which so many people in football – most of whom think they know the laws but don't – regard officials. There would not, however, be much of a game without them.
Case study David Moyes sent to the stands at Stoke City
With Everton's match at the Britannia Stadium in September poised at 2-2, referee Alan Wiley awarded a penalty when Leon Cort, two yards inside the area, used his arm to control a bouncing ball under pressure from Aiyegbeni Yakubu. Stoke City players persuaded Wiley to consult his assistant, Shaun Proctor-Green, after which Wiley awarded a free-kick outside the area. This prompted the Everton manager, David Moyes, to argue vehemently with the fourth official, Mike Jones. Wiley then sent Moyes to the stands.
After Everton had won 3-2, Moyes said: "I didn't swear but I let [the fourth official] know I thought it was the wrong decision." He added: "I've not had a chance to see it yet, so if I'm wrong I'll go and apologise [to Wiley]. I would probably expect the same from him because we're in a period of respect."
Moyes was charged by the Football Association with improper conduct. Moyes then revealed Wiley had telephoned him. He said he would not reveal the details but made it very clear what the tenor of the conversation was. "I think everyone will understand why he has done that," Moyes said . "We were wronged, but in fairness to the referee he has put a call into me. He didn't have to. The Respect campaign is really important, but you've got to earn respect and he has earned a great deal of respect from me."
Moyes subsequently pleaded guilty to the FA's charge but requested a personal hearing. No date has been set.
Crimes and punishments
So far 17 managers have been punished, or are under investigation, for allegedly breaching Rule E3 (Improper conduct; or use of abusive and/or insulting words) this season.
Chris Coleman (Coventry City)
Lost 3-0 at home against Bristol City
Paul Sturrock (Plymouth Argyle)
Lost 1-0 at Dundee United (friendly)
Ian McParland (Notts County)
Fined £450 and received two-match touchline ban
Drew 2-2 at home against Shrewsbury Town
Keith Alexander (Macclesfield)
Fined £300 and received two-match touchline ban
Lost 4-1 (aet) away to West Ham
Aidy Boothroyd (*Watford)
Given suspended one-match touchline ban
Drew 2-2 at home against Reading
Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
Won 4-3 at home against Hull City
David Moyes (Everton)
Won 3-2 away to Stoke City
Simon Davey (Barnsley)
Lost 2-1 at home against Sheffield United
Phil Brown (Hull City)
Lost 5-0 at home against Wigan
Roy Keane (Sunderland)
Lost 5-0 away to Chelsea
Glenn Roeder (Norwich City)
Lost 3-1 away to Derby County
Mickey Adams (Brighton)
Drew 0-0 away to Peterborough United
Stan Ternent (*Huddersfield)
Lost 3-2 at home against Leicester
John Sheridan (Oldham Athletic)
Won 1-0 away to Tranmere Rovers
Russell Slade (Yeovil Town)
Lost 2-1 at home against Southend
Lee Richardson (Chesterfield)
Lost 3-1 away to Lincoln City
Dave Penney (Darlington)
Lost 3-1 away to Bournemouth
*No longer at the club
NB: The FA have written to Joe Kinnear (Newcastle United) asking him to explain his comments after the 2-1 defeat at Fulham suggesting that Martin Atkinson was a "Mickey Mouse" referee. A charge is likely.
The answer? Use technology to help the officials
By Glenn Moore
The one factor which most reduces the level of respect for referees is when millions of television viewers worldwide are able to see, in an instant, that the official has made a mistake. TV coverage, and its propensity to scrutinise referees' decisions, is not going to go away, so why not harness the technology to improve decisions?
In cricket, which was one of the first sports to take this route, the prevailing opinion among umpires is that the use of television replays for decisions like run-outs has enhanced their standing but there is resistance to extending it to more interpretive ones such as lbw. On this basis it was surprising that the International Board, the game's law-making body, this year resisted a Football Association-led attempt to trial technology which would show whether the ball had crossed the goal-line. Instead, prompted by Uefa president Michel Platini, trials will use two extra officials, one behind each goal area. This may add two further pairs of eyes but it increases the danger of human error and, by using more officials, exacerbates the recruitment crisis.
Would video evidence solve more debatable issues? Offsides could be determined, as could arguments over whether incidents happened in the penalty area, but getting both right would require many well-placed cameras. It would also create stoppages in a sport whose flowing action is an integral part of the attraction.